(Back to Part 1)
You’d think it was straightforward… check out booking.com and reserve, right?
Beyond the main cities of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, accommodation isn’t always listed on commercial sites. There are plenty of hotels and guest houses, and they’re not particularly hard to find. You just won’t be able to shop and compare reviews, especially at the lower, more family-run end.
Is this a problem in any way?
If you’re the kind of person who plans a journey’s minute details then I won’t lie, it is a bit of a problem. But if you can wing it a little, I suspect you’ll be amply rewarded.
At least that’s my plan.
This trip is an interesting mix of flying blind, excruciating planning and plenty of maybes. Given that it’s part work, I can’t just wing finding a place to stay in Kyrgyzstan, much as I’d love to.
So yes, I’ve booked a few nights upon landing in Bishkek, the country’s capital. That will give me time to get my bearings, buy a local SIM card, do a few interviews and – if I’m lucky – take part in some Independence Day celebrations, since my inexcusable planning has me landing on the one day of the year everything comes to a standstill..
I did have luck with my booking site but for other, smaller towns, I’m headed for my next best friend: a good guidebook. I only give it a quick scan, mind you, because everyone deserves a chance. Just because a property isn’t listed in a guidebook doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with it – it may simply be that the author hasn’t visited (guidebook authors are hardy but stretched, having to cover huge destinations in little time). Still, I do pay attention to critiques: I don’t want to be the first to greet prospective bedbugs or carousers cavorting in the room next door.
Since I wanted to experience local life as much as possible I also researched couchsurfing-type organizations but didn’t find what I was looking for this time (I usually do).
I tried word of mouth but there was hardly a mouth to be found, with the exception of fellow bloggers who had visited before and were kind enough to post their recommendations. That yielded a few possibilities.
That said, locals will always come to the rescue: drivers, shopkeepers, guides – everyone is bound to know a decent guest house or have a relative who rents out a room.
For the Kyrgyzstan portion of my trip I’m focusing on the homestay, one of my favourite types of accommodation (my best recent experience was in Borneo). I have yet to find a better way to meet people locally. By visiting a homestay I share a meal or two with a family and provide direct income to the community.
I don’t pretend to think for a second that we will become ‘friends’ in any way or that a day or two will provide me with stellar insight into a culture, but staying in someone’s house provides a sort of intimacy, a quick gaze into that part of their lives they are willing to share. The one issue I expect to have is that of language. Let’s see what happens.
So I start my trip next Wednesday morning in Bishket, where I’ve reserved a few nights with good wifi to do a bit of work and prepare myself for the World Nomad Games being held a few hours away during which – as an accredited member of the media – I will be put up in a media hotel.
The World Nomad Games, you say? Yes, that was my first reaction too.
Have a look at what my blogger friend Stephen Lioy of MonkBoughtLunch has to say about the Games. I don’t think my iPhone skills will do this event justice but I’ll be attending for three days and I do expect the experience to be unforgettable on many levels.
As I travel through Kyrgyzstan I will stay in as many yurts as I can, part of the homestays network run by a great outfit called Community Based Tourism, or CBT. They handle all kinds of travel arrangements but the money goes straight to the individual providers – drivers, hosts, guides. They’re highly regarded and I’d like to see for myself.
My Kyrgyzstan visit will end in Osh, the country’s second city. Here, I’ve reserved a room in a guest house because I’ll be writing-for-hire for several days and need a bit of comfort and yes, good wifi. Plus, it’s right near the Osh market, one of the busiest along the Silk Road.
By mid-September I’ll be leaving Kyrgyzstan and heading for Uzbekistan where, in all honesty, I haven’t planned anything yet. A vague train journey, a possible dash across a valley or two – nothing concrete. While the country has a more sophisticated tourism infrastructure than its Kyrgyz neighbour, for me the adventure will be greater as I wander into the unknown.
That’s also the plan.